Banff to Lake Louise

Getting organized for the Banff to Lake Louise ride : Start of Bow Valley Parkway at Vermillion Lakes
Stunning views along the Parkway

Summer/Fall 2021: Part of this route is closed to motor vehicle traffic this year which provides a unique opportunity to cycle the Bow Valley Parkway without any motor vehicle traffic. Check the Parks Canada website before heading out.

Ride Statistics

Ride Difficulty Rating –  Intermediate. The majority of this ride has grades less than 2%, and as an out and back you can always turn back at any point. It is a nice gradual uphill ride but just 5 km out from Lake Louise there is a steep uphill grade to the turn off to Lake Louise, then a steep downhill grade into town.

Distance – 111 km out and back

Estimated cycling time – 5.5 hours assuming 20 km/hr

Elevation Gain – 993 m

Maximum Elevation – 1607 m

Maximum Grade –9.5% down hill grade  on the out trip at 21.3 km and up hill grade of 6.9% at km 56.9

Maximum Elevation – 1607 m just before the descent into Lake Louise

Best Parking Option

Park at the first available parking area on Vermilion Lakes road. To get to Vermilion Lakes Road, take the Norquay access into Banff off of  Hwy 1, then make the first right turn. A valid Parks Canada pass is required to park.

Alternative Parking – not available summer 2021

Park along the Bow Valley Parkway at the Edith Pass road. To get there continue along Hwy 1 past Banff and take the Bow Valley Parkway exit. Take the first opportunity to turn off to the right and park. This will shorten the route by 11 km. Banff to Lake Louise Century ride (100 Km) here we come!!

PLEASE NOTE: Depending upon how busy the day is and whether or not the Parkway is closed to vehicles, you can access appropriate parking by checking the banffparking.ca website. For example there is 12 hour free parking at the Fennlands site just adjacent to the Vermillion Lakes road which connects cyclists to the Bow Valley Parkway.

Food for Thought: Due to the increased popularity of this route due to the Covid road closure, consider parking in Lake Louise and cycling the route in reverse.

Amenities

Washrooms are available  a short distance from the parking spot along Vermillion Lakes Road and at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre at the turnaround point. Washrooms can also be found all along the Parkway at trailheads and at Johnston Canyon.

Points of Interest  

There are eleven ‘point of interest’ pull outs along this route, three with picnic tables, so there are lots of opportunities to stop and learn about the unique geological history of the area.

The road splits at km 74.0 and again at km 90.4 on the return trip to divert around geological features. This is our favourite stretch on this route. You will know what we mean once you experience this on your own.

Comments from our test riders:
Beginner Road Cyclist – We could turn back whenever we got tired and with the slower motor vehicle traffic speed we felt comfortable.

Intermediate Road Cyclist –  A great ride with great views.  

Expert Road Cyclist – Great training ride. Didn’t bother descending into Lake Louise and turned back for a nice morning ride.

What to expect from this ride

A capstone ride  is the iconic Banff to Lake Louise Bow Valley Parkway. The total cycling distance on this out and back ride is 111 km from the Vermilion Lakes parking area. The views are stunning and you may encounter wildlife along the way. We have seen both grizzly bears and black bears which is a very different experience when you are on a bike!! Watch for a line of cars stopped on the road, this usually means a wildlife spotting. Many cyclists carry bear spray however you can almost eliminate the probability of having to use bear spray if you grab a few friends and make this a group ride.

The Bow Valley Parkway is recommended for a mid-week shoulder season trip when motor vehicle traffic is lighter, however, we know a cyclist who does this route every Saturday morning and avoids the heavy traffic by getting an early start.  Keep in mind that the Bow Valley Parkway is a seasonal road and has a voluntary closure from March 1 to June 25 from 6-9 pm from Banff to Johnson Canyon to accommodate wildlife.  Check the Parks Canada website before heading out. Due to Covid 19 the first part of this route was closed to motor vehicle traffic summer 2020 and 2021 and has become super popular. I pine a bit for the days when this was a relatively unknown route.

The benefits of this ride are the views, smooth pavement and low speed vehicle traffic. In addition, the elevation gain on your way in is greater than on your way out so your return trip will be easier on the legs.  Always plan for changing weather, even on clear sunny days. Ride in a group due to wild life concerns, ride single file and wear high visibility clothing. The speed limit on this road is 60 km/hr and we have generally found the motor vehicle  drivers very respectful of cyclists. 

 Use caution cycling past the Johnston Canyon area as there are  often parked motor vehicles lining the road and pedestrians. We recommend cycling into the town of Lake Louise  and taking a break in town. If you do proceed into town, remember that there are Texas gates and, as of spring 2021, traffic lights that on the descent into Lake Louise. I forgot about the Texas Gates on one of my trips and on the fast descent into Lake Louise  road right over them. No harm was done but I would not recommend riding top speed over the rails! Alternatively, experienced riders that don’t need a break  may choose to turn back when you get to Whitehorn Drive (Lake Louise ski area road)  at the km 55 mark. This only cuts about 2.5 km’s out of the ride so always a great option.

This ride is highly recommended for all intermediate and experienced road cyclists. 

 

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